Interviews / Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind with Jill Macmurchy, VP of Solutions Engineering at Confluent

Jill Macmurchy is the APAC Vice President of Solutions Engineering for Confluent, a pioneer in data infrastructure focused on data in motion to meet the new business imperative of delivering rich, digital front-end customer experiences and transitioning to sophisticated real-time, software driven backend operations.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’ve been in the software space for over 20 years (someone told me that you shouldn’t give the exact number when it hits 20). In that time, I’ve had several roles in the customer facing technical space and leadership roles as well. I’ve worked in a combination of large companies like IBM, and then a selection of smaller organizations and start-ups.

In the last six to seven years, I’ve focused on the smaller start-up space where it’s much easier to feel your own impact in the organisation. Currently, I’m Vice President of Solutions Engineering at Confluent. The solutions engineers work with the sales team to help onboard new customers and make sure those customers are successful and I lead that team across the APAC region.

Confluent works with organisations, large and small, in every vertical. Particularly, the financial services organisations. To put it simply, Confluent unlocks our customer’s data to make their services and platforms work quicker and more effectively with real-time data in motion.

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

First of all, my day does not start with work. If I just go straight into meetings, then I  don’t feel centred, so my day starts with meditation and then a walk with my daughter somewhere near the beach to get a bit of fresh air and get the blood flowing.

Then it’s pretty much straight into work. My boss is currently based on the east coast of the US so with time differences I speak to him early in my day, which is usually a good hour talking.

For example, the other day we were planning for next year. Because our financial year starts in January, we’re in the thick of planning what the team is going to look like. 

We have recently sponsored an event which has an upcoming awards ceremony. The team and I spent time judging all the entries and I recorded the nomination videos which will play during the livestream.

Afterwards, I had a customer meeting where we focused on how an existing Confluent customer can better use our services and achieve their data-in-motion goals. To finish my day, I met virtually with the leadership team. Generally day-to-day is quite a mixed bag, they’re never quite the same.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

My morning has to include something that centres me before the day kicks off. There’s a lot of Zoom meetings that happen, particularly in the last couple of years, it can be quite exhausting.

Personally, I need to get myself mentally prepared for the day, and this   helps me get through the seven hours of Zoom. And then in the middle of the day, if possible, I try to take my daughter out for a walk or a picnic or a quick bike ride just to get some fresh air. I think being outdoors and doing exercise brings you back to Earth.

My role at Confluent allows me to both work from home and go into the office, it’s 100% flexible. I haven’t been full-time in an office since March 2020, and when I am, it’s a rare occasion. 

Finding the balance to get back out to meet customers and the team again is going to be interesting because human nature gets us to quickly adapt to a new routine, so how are we going to readapt to a hybrid model?

We got so used to working from home that I think it will be a challenge to find the right mix. But right now, many workplaces are being totally flexible, therefore, we now have the opportunity to figure out what that mix is going to look like.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

In a role like mine, work-life balance can be a challenge, but for me, it is something that is within your own control. You must set your own boundaries around what is going to work for you because otherwise your calendar will just get taken over by so many meetings. 

For me, it’s about my own autonomy in setting my calendar and making sure it works for me, that’s the first piece. I’m a single parent so it’s important for me to have quality time with my daughter and of course, I’ve also been home-schooling not very well but still. 

Work-life balance for me is giving work the time and attention that it needs and making sure that my daughter is looked after. When it comes to the end of the day, I want to be enjoying the last few hours with her rather than being in a scattered state, worried about all the things that I haven’t done or that are coming up.  

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

Meditation practice has been a foundational change in the last 12 months which has really helped my sanity. Before COVID I was always too busy to get into it. Now it’s such a consistent part of what I do that I crave getting into that zone, because it just sets me up for the rest of the day.

A year and a half ago I was driven by an app to get through it. Now I’m able to just sit quietly for 15 minutes without guidance and come out the other side feeling refreshed. I highly recommend meditation, even if you think you’re too busy to give it a go, try it for a few months and you’ll be converted.

Another change came from being at home inside the four walls all the time. I made a conscious effort to get outside more often whether it was walking the coastal paths or floating at the beach. 

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I’m addicted to podcasts because I do a lot of walking. I listen to The Mindvalley Podcast with Vishen Lakhiani, they are a few great episodes. I also like the Masters of Scale podcast which shares the stories and strategies of start-ups.

On a different note, there’s a podcast called Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls which is awesome. It’s meant for kids, but it’s stories about famous women and how they broke the mold to get to where they are. My daughter and I listen to that one together.

Book wise I’m a fan of Brené Brown, I think most women in leadership are. I like her style and I’ve read a lot of her books – Dare To Lead was especially useful.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

The Apple Watch is probably actually one gadget I really can’t live without. I’m obsessed with getting the rings filled on the activity app. It works particularly well, reminding me to stand up, because we’re in the house all the time now. Having a reminder that you need to stand up every hour is helpful. 

Another Apple product I love is the iPad. At Confluent we use it for digital whiteboarding with customers. It’s a very handy tool to have.

In terms of apps, Calm and Mindvalley are very useful to me. I mixed it up between the two. Calm has beautiful bedtime stories whilst Mindvalley has a different set of meditation exercises.

There’s also another little gadget called Reclaim, which is a smart calendar management app. It helps you set aside time in your calendar for tasks, find time to have lunch and to book in focus time. It sends you a summary every week of how much time you spent in client meetings, internals with the team, answering emails and more.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

I mentioned Brené Brown before, but I’d like to read her perspective on work-life balance. I’d also be curious to read the ideas of someone like Richard Branson, for example. It amazes me how some of those leaders are balancing their life. It makes me wonder if they’re all a part of the 5am club.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

I think it’s easy to forget that we work to support our life. Work can very easily take over. And I have been reminded recently, through a few situations, that life is precious. It’s very true what everyone says, you’re not going to lie on your deathbed and wish that you worked more, and it’s within everyone’s control to make sure that they have that balance. I think setting your boundaries and ensuring that your life works for you is really important.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.